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21 February 2008

Book Review - The Gentle Art of Domesticity

gentle art

















I've finally got round to reading a book which has been on my list for ages but which has been scaring me a bit.  I found the tweeness of the title and the cover picture tremendously off-putting, but have recently been enjoying Yarnstorm - the blog that inspired the book, and thought I'd give it a go. 

It's been the subject of quite a lot of controversy in the UK, mostly from those who think doing stuff around the house, indulging in crafts and enjoying cooking is somehow a betrayal of the feminist movement.  But as you know, I like to cook and potter in my house and garden and have tremendous admiration for people who can actually DO crafts, so I persevered beyond the horrible title and cover.

First the good bits.  The book is sumptuously produced and a hugely pleasurable read.  The chapters are short, so it's very easy to dip in and out of, and the book is absolutely chock-a-block full of photos, which are, actually, the best bit. Jane's photos are gorgeous and inspiring and I would post lots up here, but apparently I have to get her express written permission and I really couldn't be bothered, so just check out her blog instead.  But it is to her enormous credit that most of the photos in the book are taken by her and not by some anonymous stylist.

Jane's prose is also utterly beautiful, she has a very visual way of describing things and writes in a very intelligent and thoughtful way.  And the book is not just about knitting and baking and quilting, it also talks about domesticity in film and art and books, which is fascinating. It also contains an excellent list of 'Resources' at the back, including inspirational books, blogs and materials stockists.  Oh and there are lots of ideas about how to get kids involved in crafts and domestic projects.

So what didn't I like? Well the book is very personal to Jane. It is by no means an instruction manual, it is all about how she thinks about craft, how she gains inspiration, and the creative process behind her craft projects, though with no detailed instructions beyond a few recipes.  And unfortunately her aesthetic is just a bit too genteel and Radio 4 for me - the pink heart-shaped mousse on the front cover does absolutely sum it up (though the colour balance on the front cover is ghastly, there's a more subdued and nicer photo of it in the book itself). I'm a sure a ton of people will absolutely adore the stuff she makes but I'm just not an embroidered crinoline ladies sort of person. 

Does anyone know of crafters out there who are doing stuff which is a bit more well, 'fierce'? Not knitting plastic bags sort of fierce, but stuff you might want to put into a more contemporary home.


On the plus side, the book has inspired to pick up my knitting again!  Knitting is the only craft I can do. Here's the beginnings of a bag for the Minx.  Pattern, with tweaks, courtesy of this book.  Colour choice courtesy of the Minx (and only because they didn't do this yarn in bright eyeball-searing red).


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Comments has a tremendous range of crafters, from twee to ultra fierce. And has some edgy patterns sometimes.

Agree completely about the cover but the book inspired me to bake fairy cakes and decorate them in screamingly coloured icing for my French parents in law, and also to try patchworking. I am really not "that sort of person",...but perhaps really I am.

I know it's a bit scary isn't it? I look down at my pink knitting and wonder if I'm that sort of person too. Though quilting really is beyond the pale, isn't it?

I've decided I'm every kind of woman. I craft, I cook, I sew...but I support myself (well), hate doing dishes, and I like good bourbon and a ice cold vodka martini's, too. But enough about me. Modern knitting: I think Knitty Gritty (the show on DIY Network) has some good stuff sometimes; one project that comes to mind is a Fleur de lis pillow (,,DIY_14141_4842335,00.html). Also, the Purl Bee ( is a fun blog to follow and provides some good knitting patterns (you can get to them via the nav bar on the right hand side of the page -- I like the mood pillow). Also, Knitwhits ( fun projects that are of the here & now. Well, IMHO anyway.

Thanks so much for all the suggestions! I nearly spent a fortune on the Knitwits site last night as a result.

I have never heard of this book! Sounds like something I would really enjoy! I will have to check it out!

PS, as an ex-cover designer, I totally agree that the cover is way too juvenile and "pepto" for its own good. Bleck!

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